The new Youth Brains Trust 2013/2014

To all my friends reading this, I have an important story to share with you. One year ago, Lynsey (the wizard of Tune In Not Out fame) sent me an email about this up and coming organisation she’d heard about. It was the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, and they were taking applications for their Youth Brains Trust. In utter truth, I only gave it a casual glance. I wasn’t particularly enthused or hopeful about my chances, but figured it would be a cool opportunity to help shape research impacting on young people. As I started filling out the application form and writing about why I was interested in the wellbeing of young people, I started talking about my experiences with bullying in high school. To my amazement, I started crying quite uncontrollably. Never before had I realised how much I had suffered, and how much I wanted to prevent others from experiencing the shit that I went through. All of a sudden I discovered that youth education and wellbeing was something I truly cared about.

This past year I have done some great things. I was flown to Melbourne where I met most of the other members of the Youth Brains Trust. I was deeply impressed by how down to earth and yet how profoundly sensitive the staff were to the issues we as young people might have been experiencing. I met some truly remarkable people who have inspired and changed my life for the better, and I am deeply honoured to have spent such a good time in their wonderful company.

In terms of shaping research, I participated in a teleconference to help give feedback about a research report, sharing what my experiences of technology and wellbeing were in relation to other young men.  ReachOut hosted a consultation on Suicide and Social Media through their tremendously supportive forums – I hold this as one of my most cherished memories in really making a difference by talking with other young people. I helped with the final feedback stages of the projects Keep it Tame, and the very amazing @ppreciate (which you might like to think of a Facebook filled with compliments and kindness rather than complaints and rudeness). I shared my perspective on challenging racism, as well as answering some questions about the YBT, mental health and technology. I was also on the verge of giving a presentation about the Young and Well CRC at an Australian Psychological Society conference until the time slot fell through at the last minute. Most recently I shared my story in a report about technology use among young men, and gave two interviews (to radio and newspaper) about the startling results that came from it.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much I’ve done and helped do since I joined the Trust in October last year. Much of it I had forgotten and only rediscovered when I trawled through my emails. I can’t help but wonder how much more I have done that I kept no record of, and has passed now beyond memory. As an experience, I consider my time with the Brains Trust rare, humbling, and life-changing.

And now the time has come for someone else to take the torch. A little part of me can’t help but feel attached to the Youth Brains Trust and everything it’s become while I’ve been part of it. Yet I am tremendously excited that twenty more young people get the chance to do what I’ve done, to do more than what I’ve done in their own wonderfully unique way. My year of active participation may be concluding, but for another group of people who are passionate for their own fantastic reasons and in their own wonderful ways, an amazing journey is about to begin. And who knows – you may just be one of them!

Hit up the website to submit an application. All the best for the near year, future Brain Trust goers!

Joining the Youth Brains Trust

A little while ago, Lynsey sent me an email she thought I might be interested in. An organisation called the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre was putting together a Youth Brains Trust and were accepting applications. I had no idea what a cooperative research centre was, nor had I ever heard of a brains trust, but I had a look at their website and found myself quietly excited at the idea that I could be part of it.


A cooperative research centre is a group of people who come together from all walks of life, working in collaboration with relevant organisations to research particular issues. The Young and Well CRC is interested in the mental health and wellbeing of young people, specifically exploring the role of technology in shaping youth mental health. A brains trust is a group of people (experts, if you will) who advise decision-makers (or researchers, in this case) around their issue of expertise.


In a rather bold stroke of inspiration, the Young and Well CRC wanted to bring twenty youths aged 12-25 into the process of shaping the research they were involved in. I find this extraordinary because when I think of social policy makers and researchers, I think of 50-year-old men in tweed suits and polka dot bowties. To have teenagers and young adults as a crucial part of the research process is amazing.


To my great surprise, I was chosen as one of the members of the Youth Brains Trust and flown to Melbourne for a weekend to meet with the other members and staff. And what an incredible weekend it was. Not only did we finally put some faces to names, we got to understand what the Young and Well CRC is all about, and to collaborate ideas on how we as a brains trust could change the world, one mobile phone at a time.


The Friday of the weekend was pretty cruisey. Despite leaving home at 8:15am, due to the time difference, we (the other Perthian and I) didn’t get to the Young and Well CRC until about four in the afternoon. We played some cool games to get to know each other, before watching Back to the Future with accompanying vegan gourmet pizza and popcorn. (Yes! Healthy vegan snacks for the win!).


On Saturday, we were up and ready by 8am (read: 6am for Perthians) to start the day. We shared ideas around what we wanted to achieve as part of the organisation, and produced quite an exhaustive list! What was equally enjoyable was generating ideas for how we could start making a practical move towards achieving these goals.


Afterwards, we got to know the major projects of the Young and Well CRC, which are incredibly innovative and useful ways of helping young people interact with technology. The projects fall under the three general headings of “Safe and Supportive”, “Connected and Creative” and “User-Driven and Empowered”, and between the three of them, there is some incredible work being done around improving youth mental health. My favourite of the projects is a very groovy Online Wellbeing Centre, including a virtual clinic where you can get help and information around mental health, and speak to an individual counsellor (among other things).


We also spent some time in self-reflection, exploring our own reasons for coming together and why we’re passionate about youth wellbeing. That, coupled with exploring our unique strengths, allowed us to get a better picture of how important we as young people are in shaping research that will impact other young people. We also heard from a member of last year’s brains trust, and it was both thrilling and inspiring to see how passionate young people can be about our wellbeing.


We had a really pleasurable evening getting dinner and ice cream, and then meeting in a hotel room for some late night Uno. Although I withdrew for an early-ish night, there was some mysterious bonding going on as everyone emerged the next day with new gangster names such as “Snoop Pup” and “Duck Healer”.


Sunday started at 8am (read: 5am Perth-time, due to bloody Daylight Savings) for the final day of the workshop. We got to know some of the Communications Team and how they work to disseminate knowledge of the Young and Well CRC to health professionals, youth-serving organisations and the internet in general. I hadn’t realised that having a great idea isn’t enough – people need to find out about it! (Much like writing this blog post is informing you! See Doug? I learn stuff.) Shortly after, Associate Professor Jane (Da Burn) Burns, CEO of the Young and Well CRC ( yes, even she got a gangster name) gave us an amazing talk on presentation skills and public speaking. Da Burn is an amazing person, and I’m glad that she is helping direct such an important organisation.


After an evaluation session at the local park (well, they had to drag us off the playground before we did any actual evaluating), we joined a large barbecue to meet the other people of interest that worked with the Young and Well CRC. We had a great time, and demonstrated our thanks by bursting into a very poor iteration of Gangnam Style.


What impressed me most about the Youth Brains Trust was the diversity of young people who are part of it. There was a healthy mix of people from so many different paths of life. I’m not at liberty to tell anyone’s story without their permission, but there was a huge range of people, and each of their unique needs, experiences and perspectives were valued, respected and cared for. I can’t help but think that a group of young, passionate people like us can verily change the world.


So that was my weekend with the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre! Keep an eye open for them in the future, whether they be exploring their cutting edge projects, reading up on fascinating research or volunteering over the year to come! They’re pretty good at keeping in touch via email, so if you like you can subscribe to the Young and Well Network. Peace out everybody.